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Home of Norwalk's first settlers' burns down

By Henry Timman • Mar 3, 2017 at 11:32 AM

If we could return to the year 1817 and stand in the present city of Norwalk at this time, we’d find ourselves on a sand ridge (Main Street) with a path on the crest of it.

The path was lined with some brush and berry bushes, and wound its way through the magnificent oak trees which one can still see growing on West Main, especially in the yards at No. 99 and No. 133. Similar native oak trees can be seen on Benedict Avenue south of Chestnut Street.

As we stood there in that wilderness, we’d suddenly see two men approach. They are Platt Benedict and his brother-in-law Samuel Darling. Mr. Benedict was land agent for the owners of the land where Norwalk now stands, and had left Danbury, Conn., in January 1817 to come to Norwalk to build a cabin for his family and to commence forming a village here. The ultimate goal of the proprietors was to have the Ohio Legislature approve moving the county seat from its location north of Milan, to Norwalk.

The few men living in the area were rounded up to build the cabin, and most of them showed up. However, a “fast” snowstorm passed over and Mr. B. offered to postpone the work. One of the workers, Levi Cole, said that the snow wouldn’t hurt them — by the end of the day, a cabin was built.

A local man was hired to clear four acres of land in the Norwalk Creek valley (then called Clear Creek) with the proviso that he could live in the cabin for the summer. One day he left to work and when he returned at noon, the cabin was afire. He saved what he could (his own possessions) and left. When the Benedict family returned on September 9, 1817, they had the first news of their cabin being destroyed.

Once again local labor was rallied and a new cabin was built. This was the first real home in the city of Norwalk and stood on the lot where the county office buildings now stand at 12 and 16 E. Main St. After just two years of living in this primitive home, a brick house was built at 12 E. Main and was occupied by family members until 1878, when it was altered into a retail business block. Today at least one wall of that 1819 house still stands, I believe.

The Benedict family consisted of Mr. B., his wife Sally de Forest, and their five children — Clarissa, Eliza, Daniel, David and Jonas. Mrs. Benedict wrote in later years that in that first winter of 1817-1818, they were the only family on the town plat of Norwalk, with the nearest neighbor two miles away. She said that many evenings they sat around the fireplace for warmth and light, and for an evening treat had no apples, but instead they ate turnips from their garden.

The next year (1818) saw new settlers come into the community, and it became a much busier place. County government was moved to Norwalk and the first term of court was held here in October of 1818.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in downtown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.

 

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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